Monday, April 30, 2012

Korean Box Office Update (04/27-04/29, 2012)

The Avengers Knocks Out the Competition

Title Release Date Market Share Weekend Total Screens
1 The Avengers (us) 4/26/12 64.30% 1,342,576 1,636,182 963
2 A Muse 4/25/12 15.80% 389,797 553,807 519
3 Architecture 101 3/22/12 6.20% 157,166 3,622,800 316
4 The Scent 4/11/12 4.70% 115,110 1,090,057 296
5 Battleship (us) 4/11/12 3.50% 90,458 2,171,337 299
6 Crayon Shin-chan (jp) 4/26/12 3.20% 90,099 92,885 277
7 Untouchable (fr) 3/22/12 0.70% 17,742 1,688,300 108
8 Spring Snow 4/26/12 0.20% 6,330 11,238 117
9 The Hunger Games (us) 4/5/12 0.20% 4,615 604,809 67
10 Over My Dead Body 3/29/12 0.10% 3,626 982,185 42

Well summer has truly arrived as we have our first major blockbuster performance.  There was never really any doubt what would happen this weekend but the size of The Avengers' opening was very impressive nonetheless as it captured almost two thirds of the weekend box office.

Total admissions stood at an enormous 2.1 million which is among the biggest in the history of the market, it was also well over last year's 1.5 million when Thor (one of the many predecessors to The Avengers) opened.  The Korean box office share took a big hit as it shrunk to 27%, which was a bit lower than 2011's 36%, but it will likely bounce back next weekend.

The Avengers 1,342,576 opening is huge but not a patch on last year's Transformers 3's opening bow, which stood at over two million.  This early in the summer though it is a notable achievement and one must remember that The Avengers is not as popular or well known as in the United States.  Given the film's positive reaction (Twitter netizens have been raving abut it) it should continue to play well but it will face some competition for the top spot next weekend in the form of a much anticipated Korean film.  Though I wonder how much pent up demand was spent this past weekend.  The good news is that this is definitely one of the biggest Hollywood films of the year so local fare may have to face much worse during the rest of the season.

A Muse was the major opening Korean film this weekend and I've been wondering why they scheduled at the same time as such a gigantic Hollywood blockbuster.  It had a fairly good opening with 389,797 but I imagine it would have done better without the extra competition.  Awareness for this pic is high and though I have not yet read any reviews I imagine that it could play well throughout the rest of May.

Architecture 101 stayed at number three but did drop around 40%.  Its 157,166 frame is still very impressive given it is now in its sixth week.  It will need a little more to push past the four million mark but I have a feeling that it won't quite make it that far.

Despite its increase last weekend, The Scent retreated this tie around as it lost over 60% of its business.  It made 115,110 over the frame and has crossed the one million mark but will probably disappear from theatres very soon.

Battleship, after two big weekends, sank suddenly as it shed over 80% of its audience for 90,458 over the three days.  Clearly The Avengers was too much competition for it.  This also does not bode well for its stateside release.

The new Crayon Shin-chan anime film had an okay start with 90,099 while French hit Untouchable finally took a tumble as it lost most of its business, leaving it with 17,742.

Spring Snow, the other Korean film opening wide this weekend had a disastrous start this weekend as it attracted only 6,330 viewers.  I'm not surprised really as even for fans of family melodrama I can't see much appeal in this one.

The Hunger Games and Over My Dead Body were almost wiped out as they both lost over 90% for 4,615 and 3,626 respectively, the latter has likely missed its chance at getting past the one million mark.

Next week we'll see if The Avengers keeps its crown or hands it over to As One, the most anticipated Korean film of the year to date.  It has a chance but I think the band of superheroes will be taking a second victory lap.  I'm also curious to see if A Muse can improve on this week's performance.


The Korean Box Office Update is a weekly feature which provides detailed analysis of film box office sales over the Friday to Sunday period in Korea. It appears every Sunday evening or Monday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at Korean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-upReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Udine Far East Film Festival Day IX Report

Ongoing reports on the 14th Udine International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering onsite.

And so Udine comes to a close it's been a great week and I just got back in a moment ago.  Here are my thoughts on the last day's films and tomorrow I will recap the whole week.

The Divine Bow
(South Korea, 1979)

Im Kwon-taek’s second film of the retrospective was also the third island drama in the programme.  After the motherhood themes of Kim Ki-young’s Iodo (1977) and the changing roles of women examined in Kim Soo-young’s Splendid Outing (1978), Im’s The Divine Bow also featured a female protagonist but this time the focal point was shamanism.

Shamanism is frequently represented in Korean cinema but for the most part it is an element rather than a major theme, aside from Park Chan-wook and Park Chan-ok’s incendiary Night Fishing (2011).  Generally speaking it features prominently in K-horrors, like Possessed (2009) and Ghastly (2011) and is almost always presented in a negative light.  Im, as he moved towards a more reflective style of filmmaking in the mid-70s, became interested in Korean culture and history and particularly in shamanism, which, unlike other religions of the peninsula, has much older roots in the country.

Im’s exploration of the rituals and traditions of the belief structure is almost reverential.  Rather than make a positive or negative commentary on it, he opts to explore it and leave us to draw our own conclusions.  The best scenes of the film, led and brought to life by the great Yun Jeong-hee (Poetry, 2010), are the hypnotic ritualistic dances.  The film is also impressive in its mise-en-scene, especially with its resplendent location shooting.  All told The Divine Bow is a great early Im feature which hints at some of his greatness of later years.

(South Korea, 1975)

Flame, from Yu Hyun-mok, is one of the more well-known films in the ‘Darkest Decade’ retrospective and I’ve had it on the long finger for some time.  Just like Rainy Days (1979), screened earlier this week, the film is set in a village in the past and appears to be an anti-communist film.  However one doesn’t have to search too far for Yu’s real intention, which has more to do with intolerance and hypocrisy in his own country rather than the one North of the border.

The film begins with an unknown and injured man with a rifle, running away from something.  The sequence is edited in slow motion and complemented with an effective score.  It is also quite disorienting and this is exacerbated when the narrative begins to unfold in flashback, via a number of unidentified snippets which we are left to decipher.  This does pose a practical problem as it is a little difficult to piece together the plot and to recognize the characters within it but it is also deliberate and serves its purpose.

Yu employs this experimental structure to highlight the confusion of the period.  Koreans underwent constant change during the colonial period and this only got worse during the Korean war.  Following that, the country, though recently autonomous, became authoritarian under its new military rulers and then switched in the 60s to an even worse dictator.  The period that the film chronicles goes no further than the Korean war but Yu seems to be commenting on a broader historiographical context which also includes recent and present times.

Questions of family, loyalty and duty are explored, just as they were in Rainy Days, and make this another fascinating work.  When I get to Korea I will be trying very hard to get my hands on the out-of-print Korean Film Archive’s Yu Hyun-mok’s DVD boxset to further my discovery of this great filmmaker.  Another wonderful retrospective film, I’m just sad that it was the last one...

Romancing in Thin Air
(Hong Kong, 2011)

There have been a lot of films about filmmaking on the festival circuit this year and the format has yielded many great works.  Sadly, Johnny To’s latest does not sit well alongside this crowd.  Romancing in Thin Air is a romance, which is nothing new for the prolific director, but for his occidental fans who are primarily know him through his action and gangster films like The Mission (1999), Election (2005), and Exiled (2006), this will not be required viewing. 

It isn’t a bad film and just like the rest of To’s oeuvre, it features strong mise-en-scene.  It even throws in some clever postmodern elements, like the film within a film, which enhance the romantic aspect and raises a few interesting questions regarding our relationship with the medium.  With all of its intertextual elements, I’m not sure that it’s really trying to say anything but the joy is the hint of something grander.  It doesn’t make grandiloquent statements like Amir Naderi’s grandiose Cut (2011), which I had the chance to see at last month’s Fribourg International Film Festival, nor does it mine the catharsis of creativity like The Woodsman and the Rain (2011), but it does titillate nonetheless.  I guess I’m just a sucker for movies that shine a light on their construction.

The film follows a Hong Kong actor who exiles himself to an out of the way resort in the Yunnan province where he meets a no-nonsense woman who seems indifferent to his status and charm, though is secretly one of his biggest fans.

Romancing in Thin Air is certainly not the greatest in To’s body of work but a charming and thoughtful effort nonetheless, though I imagine many people will not have time for it.

Dangerously Excited
(South Korea, 2012)

This is the only Korean film playing that has yet to be released in theaters (it opens in July), so it was nice to get the jump for once and not be influenced by any sort of critical consensus.  Dangerously Excited is a charming little film about a civil worker who excels at his job.  Through a series of events he winds up host to a young indie band which he then becomes the bassist for.

Yoon Jae-moon takes the lead in this film and though he is recognizable from a host of major recent Korean films (The Good, the Bad and the Weird, 2008; Mother, 2009), this is the first time I’ve seen him take the lead in a film.  He’s a natural fit as the straightlaced office worker who treasures the order in his life and his performance never veers into caricature.

I will write a full review of Dangerously Excited for MKC soon but it’s safe to say that it is a very enjoyable film if somewhat slight and not altogether memorable.

(South Korea, 2012)

Unbowed, after its release earlier this year during the lunar day holiday, met with much the same reaction as last year’s Silenced.  They were both incendiary courtroom dramas based on real events that became big commercial and critical hits while also serving to open up long overdue national dialogues about Korea’s justice system and its rampant cronyism.  In fact in the space of few months there were three high profile Korean courtroom dramas that connected with audiences, the other being The Client (2011), itself a strong feature which also alluded to problems in the country’s legal system but was mainly a generic (and fictional) piece.

Chung Ji-young hadn’t made a feature film in 14 years and he’s not quite in step with the industry standards of today but it’s just as well as his effective but unobtrusive style leaves the film in the hands of its strongest elements: its excellent cast and brilliant script.

Ahn Sung-ki is perfect for this role, there’s really no other word for it.  He is absolutely convincing as a fiercely intelligent and pragmatic man driven to the edge,  his standoffs with the cold judge (Moon Sung-kun, equally formidable) are intense and cathartic.

I will also be reviewing this film properly in the coming days but if you get a chance to see it, Unbowed is a must and already 2012’s best Korean film (admittedly I’ve only seen two!)

The Woman in the Septic Tank
(Philippines, 2011)

My final film of the festival was a bit of a wild card but I was excited for it as I had been told that it was yet another film about filmmaking.  The Woman in the Septic Tank is an outright comedy that takes aim squarely at that which has been dubbed ‘poverty porn’, a type of film that is typical produced in a developing nation and which appeals to film festival goers by depicting harrowing despair.  The Udine Far East Film Festival does their utmost to steer away from this kind of film and even says so in its trailer, so it’s only fitting that this film, which in a sense reaffirms the festival’s aims was the penultimate film of the week.

A couple of young filmmakers in Manila are looking to make a brilliant art film that will go straight to Cannes and the narrative begins with a few scenes of the film.  They are slow, depressing and boring but also hilarious as they exaggerates all the worst elements of these types of films.  However most people in the audience didn’t seem to understand that it was joke until we cut to the fresh-faced filmmakers in the car heading to a coffeeshop to order soy mocafrappucinos or gold knows what else.

The star of their film is going to be Eugene Domingo and she uproariously sends herself up in a great cameo and also various performances within the film’s film.  During one scene the director and producer argue about who should play the lead, a mother of seven in a Manila slum who sells a child to a Caucasian pedophile.  Aside from Eugene they also consider Cherry Pie, for me this was hilarious and also eye-opening as she was in Fable of the Fish (2011), which I saw last month at the Fribourg International Film Festival, essentially the same role in the exact kind of film that this one seeks to ridicule.  I need to find out which one was made first!

Though not on the level of some other movies about the industry that I’ve seen so far this year, The Woman in the Septic Tank is outrageous and extremely refreshing, especially if you’re familiar with the festival circuit.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Udine Far East Film Festival Day VIII Report

Ongoing reports on the 14th Udine International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering onsite.

Splendid Outing
(South Korea, 1978)

The second Kim Soo-young film of the retrospective (after Night Journey, 1977), Splendid Outing was a fantastic island drama that was almost a horror in its design.  It’s also seem to be a huge influence of one of the best Korean films of the last few years, Jang Chul-soo’s Bedevilled (2010).

The film’s central protagonist is a successful businesswoman, which is an anomaly in 1970s Korea.  She owns a high rise, has a big office and seems respected by all of her peers.  She has two children but doesn’t seem to have much time for them.  Early on in the film the pressure starts to get to her and she takes a trip down to the South in her car, at which point she is swallowed up by a mob in coastal town, abducted and brought to an isolated island where she is given to a man who believes that she is his wife.

Once again, notions of female identity in contemporaneous Korea dominate.  Is she being punished for not conforming to the standard role of a woman?  The abundant power she holds is instantly stripped from her and after neglecting her duties as a mother in the home she is forced to care for a new offspring and has no means of escape.

Of course the traditional position of woman in society also comes under the microscope as she is literally stripped of all her freedom and forced to debase herself.  She is beaten and people ridicule her when she tries to explain who she is.  Like a number of other Korean films, old and new, the main character is transplanted from a comfortable urban environment to a rural one.  The islands in Iodo (1977), Splendid Outing and Bedevilled, as well as the villages in Bestseller (2010) and Moss (2010) are presented as spaces of horror, where dogmatic traditionalism or religion lead to horrific acts of abuse.

One of my favorite films of retrospective and the festival, Splendid Outing is a classic Korean film that could win over many spectators if given the chance.

A Woman Chasing a Killer Butterfly
(South Korea, 1978)

This bizarre effort from Kim Ki-young was loved by some and derided by others but it is certainly one of the week’s films that elicited the strongest response.  A Woman Chasing a Killer Butterfly (aka Killer Butterfly) seems like a cultish B-movie but it also has many philosophical overtones as it references Nietzsche and other works, including Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will (1934).

I won’t bother providing a synopsis because to be honest I wasn’t really sure what was going on most of the time.  The film seemed relatively clear at first as it went through two pseudo-chapters but its third section, which swallowed most of the narrative, lost me completely.  I was frustrated not to understand what as going on but I was never bored.  Killer Butterfly is furiously inventive and often hilarious though this is not always intentional and poor subtitles from an old copy didn’t help matters.

Compared to Kim’s other films I was surprised at the lack of a polished mise-en-scene, which leads me to imagine that this was made in a rush.  This would also explain the choppy plotting and uneven pacing.  That said, I will definitely give this another chance some day, if I’m presented with the opportunity, as I think there was much that I didn’t catch during this viewing.

Afro Tanaka
(Japan, 2012)

I’ve been lucky to see some wonderful Japanese comedies this week, including Sukiyaki (2011) and The Woodsman and the Rain (2011), but it’s true that sometimes, Japanese humour can be a little dry.  The films of Miki Satoshi (In the Pool, 2005; Adrift in Tokyo, 2007), which I had a chance to see earlier this year at the East Winds Festival, walk a dangerously fine line but just about get away with it.  Afro Tanaka has a lot of charm and is frequently inventive but it pushes this style of comedy to an extreme and at times it was too much for me handle.  However, the audience in the theater certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves and true enough the film has many laugh out loud moments so perhaps this just wasn’t one for me.

Tanaka is a young man with an enormous afro who has yet to have a girlfriend.  He is invited to the wedding of a childhood friend and must now find a companion so as not to lose face.

I couldn’t quite make sense of the ridiculous afro, it was funny for a moment but over the course of the film, which stretched to nearly two hours, it starts to become a bit of an eyesore.  The script contents itself with situational comedy for the most part which is a shame as I think some more focus on the characters and a stronger plot may have yielded a much stronger film.

The Bounty
(Hong Kong, 2012)

This HK movie world premiere was attended by director Fung Chih-chiang as well as the producer, costume designer, production designer as well as a co-star.  An action-comedy about a bounty hunter tracking down a fugitive on a little island in Hong Kong, The Bounty had its moments but was not a satisfying effort.  Chapman To, the star, was hilarious but this pales in comparison to his performance in Vulgaria (2012).  There wasn’t much to the plot which in and of itself isn’t really a problem for this kind of a narrative but it dragged on for far too long.  There was a clear ending point which seemed to work quit well but then the film trundled along for another half an hour which really spoiled it.

Maybe the film would have played better if it had remained a straight comedy but as it stands its slide into melodrama was poorly conceived and killed any momentum that the film had built early on.  There were elements of the film I liked, the comedy mostly worked in the early stages and as already mentioned Chapman To was good, he’s a very reliable performer in this type of role, but overall this is not a film I could recommend to anybody besides diehard HK film fans.

(South Korea, 2011)

Previous MKC Review

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Udine Far East Film Festival Day VII Report

Ongoing reports on the 14th Udine International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering onsite.

Wang Sib Ri, My Hometown
(South Korea, 1976)

I wish I had been able to see this film earlier so that I could have included it in last December’s ‘Jopok’ (or gangster) week on MKC.  Im Kwon-taek’s Wang Sib Ri, unlike his latter The General’s Son trilogy, is a gangster film with almost no violence but that uses the mob element to convey some sort of misguided escapism.  Joon-tae is a gangster who returns to Wang Sib Ri, his hometown, after 14 years spent in Japan.  Aside from a need to reconnect with his old girlfriend he seems a little hazy on his visit’s purpose.  He meets old friends, who fill him in on everybody’s news, and starts a casual affair with a naïve but sweet prostitute.  He says he will return to Japan but we can’t be sure that he means to, perhaps he is trying to escape from the place he escaped to, to the place where he escaped from. 

Im’s film is ostensibly about Joon-tae but really he is a surrogate for us to discover a provincial town in Korea and its downtrodden characters.  Like other films in the ‘Darkest Decade’ retrospective, it is quite bleak.  Wang Sib Ri is a drab town but rather than one that has fallen into disrepair.  Like many other films that feature a character returning to his place of origin, the town is shown to have taken side during the protagonist’s absence.  The flashbacks are certainly more colorful but I’m sure how that they are meant to represent a happier time.  Keep in mind that that when Joon-tae would have left, the country was already in the midst of Park Chung-hee’s authoritarian rule.

I don’t want to spoil the end except to say that it features the strongest sequence in the film and that its conclusions are far removed from Im’s body of work in his later career.

Yeongja’s Heyday
(South Korea, 1975)

Kim Ho-sun’s film, which was the fourth most successful local film of the decade, launched the ‘hostess film’ trend and is said to be the best example of the genre.  Like most of the retrospective’s films, women, and their restrictive positions in society, are given pride of place.  Here we follow Yeong-ja, a woman who intitally moves from the country to Seoul to work as a maid but soon begins to descend into prostitution.

What is interesting and at the same time most unfortunate about Yeong-ja is that she doesn’t seem to have a hand in her destiny.  The son of the wealthy family she serves rapes her and this gets her thrown out.  One day she rides the bus, but is pushed out by the other passengers, an episode which costs her an arm.  Maggie Lee, a reporter for Variety also in attendance, made a good point that this represents the loss of her virginity and innocence.  It is violent, cacophonous moment which is incontrovertible.

The one problem for me with the film was that its conclusions were inevitable, as is mostly the case with these fallen women films.  I imagine the director was familiar with a number of Japanese examples of the genre, which range from Mizoguchi’s The Life of Oharu (1952) and Streets of Shame (1956) and Seijun Suzuki’s Story of a Prostitute (1965), though my favorite is Naruse’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1959).  Kim’s film was much less subdued and while it was often effective, it came off as aggressive at times.  Nonetheless, Yeongja’s Heyday was a fascinating film and its success makes me even more curious about the role of women in society during that time.

(Hong Kong, 2012)

This Pang Ho-cheung film, my first, is actually playing at midnight tonight but I caught it in the library yesterday as I knew I wouldn’t manage to make to its official screening.  I had to make time for it after so many people I met implored me to watch it.

It is another film about filmmaking, which always whets my whistle, but this is goes down a different path and employs an approach that, as the title implies, is quite vulgar.  It’s very clever though as there is no violence or nudity, rather the film is replete with obscene language and some rather shocking suggestion.

A producer of Category III films is giving a talk to film students about the film trade and launches into a description of the making of his most recent film, an erotic sequel to a 70s hit, starring an ageing porn star and being bankrolled by a depraved mob boss.

Vulgaria is hilarious and probably the most fun I’ve had all week, I was in stitches in the press room.  Pang gets the film going very quickly and the pace never drops, everthing is played for laughs and nothing is off limits.  I daresay this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but if you’ve ever enjoyed a midnight screening, this comes highly recommended.

Love in a Puff
(Hong Kong, 2010)

My second Pang Ho-cheung film of the day was a complete 180 from VulgariaLove in a Puff is a very modern story of a burgeoning romance set in Hong Kong.  It’s cute without being cloying and cool without seeming conceited. 

The title refers to smoking, which has just been outlawed in pubic places in 2009.  It is during smoking breaks, where workers in a neighbourhood have begun to fraternize in back alleys that Jimmy Cheung and Cherie Yue meet and slowly begin a relationship.

Love in a Puff chronicles the initial stages of their rapprochement and is full of texting, miscommunication and anxiety:  it’s fresh and it never seems forced.  Since its release in 2010, Pang’s film has received plenty of positive critical attention and it’s easy to see why but it just may be that I wasn’t as taken with it as others.  I can’t really fault the film or its style, I understand and appreciate what it set out to do and rather than say it failed to meet those aims, I’ll say that it didn’t quite suit my tastes.  I still enjoyed the film and would have liked to see its follow up, Love in the Buff (2012), screening later in the day but I wasn’t excited enough to queue for a long time to get a decent seat for the gala presentation with Pang in attendance.

(South Korea, 2011)

Every so often, a film will set off a chain of events that has far greater ramifications than the production itself.  Silenced, which was 2011’s third highest grossing Korean film, is one of these.  It was a midlevel movie that became an unexpected hit and resulted in a national uproar and rapid legislative change.  The film, the story it was based on and the response it inspired were the focus of much domestic and international attention, garnering coverage in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN and more.

The film’s power derives from its graphic depiction of extreme events where people in positions of authority take advantage of the weak.  But it is the details and the extent to which the film’s disabled protagonists are oppressed that make it the landmark picture it is.  While it highlights depraved and heinous crimes, Silenced is fuelled by systemic abuse that applies to most Korean citizens without wealth and powerful allies.

While a fine thriller that has the power to move and shock all but the most cynical viewers, Silenced will likely be remembered more for its enormous impact on Korean society rather than for its own merits as a narrative potboiler.  It may not be the most technically proficient production of 2011 it could very well be the one that most successfully accomplished its goals.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Weekly Review Round-up (04/21-04/27, 2012)

A number reviews for My Way as it plays in limited release across the US and some reviews from the recent Terracotta Far East Film Festival and the current Udine Far East Film Festival.


(A Girl's Journey to the East, April 27, 2012)

(Cine Vue, April 22, 2012)

(Hangul Celluloid, April 24, 2012)

(London Korean Links, April 22, 2012)

(Seen in Jeonju, April 22, 2012)

Dancing Queen

(CUEAFS, April 22, 2012)

My Way

(The One One Four, April 22, 2012)

(Modern Korean Cinema, April 26, 2012)

(Twitch, April 25, 2012)

(Modern Korean Cinema, April 25, 2012)


(CUEAFS, April 25, 2012)

(Drama Beans, April 22, 2012)

(Salon, April 21, 2012)

(Rockets & Robots Are Go, April 21, 2012)

(Columbia Daily Tribune, April 26, 2012)

(, April 27, 2012)


(Japan Cinema, April 27, 2012)

(Otherwhere, April 23, 2012)

(Init_Scenes, April 24, 2012)

Iodo, 1977
(Modern Korean Cinema, April 24, 2012)

Mr. Wacky, 2006
(VCinema Show, April 24, 2012)

(Modern Korean Cinema, April 25, 2012)

Pollen, 1972
(Modern Korean Cinema, April 24, 2012)

Rainy Days, 1979
(Modern Korean Cinema, April 25, 2012)

(, April 19, 2012)

(Korean Grindhouse, April 21, 2012)

(Aidy Revies, April 26, 2012)

(Modern Korean Cinema, April 27, 2012)

(Modern Korean Cinema, April 27, 2012)

The Weekly Review Round-up is a weekly feature which brings together all available reviews of Korean films in the English language (and sometimes French) that have recently appeared on the internet. It is by no means a comprehensive feature and additions are welcome (email pierceconran [at] gmail [dot] com). It appears every Friday morning (GMT+1) on Modern Korean Cinema. For other weekly features, take a look at Korean Cinema News, and the Korean Box Office UpdateReviews and features on Korean film also appear regularly on the site. 

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Blind (블라인드, Beulraindeu) 2011

The none-too-subtle opening sequence

First impressions are important and as film viewers we are particularly prone to making rash decisions based upon the opening moments of anything we watch.  This is perhaps even more important in this day and age as multimedia is so readily accessible.  Our already short attention spans are dwindling ever further as we can easily switch between TV channels, on demand, stored digital, and portable media.  Those first few minutes of a film can dispense a large volume of information but even so, they cannot always prepare you for what you are going to see.  Opening scenes are important but not every kind of film can benefit from a flashy beginning.

One of this year’s most successful Korean films, Blind does not get off to the greatest start and blunders on through the first act with heavy feet, trampling through the early stages of the plot.  Subtlety is not the film’s strong suit and the quicker this is accepted, the better.  Once I got used to the heavy-handedness of the proceedings I was able to enjoy myself but the film walks a dangerous line from the start.  It doesn’t really announce itself properly and seems like a relatively sober affair at first, it is only as it continues in unsubtle fashion and when things become even more ridiculous that you begin to understand the intent of the film, which is to be a trashy and entertaining potboiler.  It does succeed on that last count, but it takes a while to get there and is not without its fair share of problems.

Min Soo-ah (Kim Ha-enul) is a young trainee at the police academy and she barges in on an informal dance show and corners her brother, whom she chastises and more or less drags out by the ear.  He is cuffed to the door of the passenger seat of a police van as they bicker, presumably on the way to bring him home.  To cut a long story short: they crash, he dies because he is handcuffed, and she loses her sight.  Flashforward a few years later and she is still adjusting to the life of the visually-impaired and carrying a lot of guilt over her brother’s death. One night she gets in a taxi, or at least she thinks she does, and the driver hits someone and assuming she can’t tell the difference, tries to cover it up then swiftly disappears.  Equipped with her heightened hearing as well as her intuition and cleverness she tries to help scruffy Detective Jo (Jo Hee-bong) at the local police station track him down.  A youth called Gi-seob (Yoo Seung-ho) comes forward with some information but is dismissed as an opportunist out for some reward money.  They soon realize he was telling the truth and he becomes a part of the investigation.  Little do they know that are in fact tracking a serial killer.

Gi-seob (Yoo Eung-ho), the brother stand-in

Although it starts with a big dollop of melodrama, Blind mainly indulge in dribs and drabs.  In fact most of the melodrama that appears in the film relates to that opening scene.  Gi-seob serves as a stand-in for Min’s deceased brother and his relationship with her mainly serves as an instrument for her to forgive herself for her sibling’s untimely passing.  There are a lot of none-too-subtle parallelisms linking Gi-seob and her brother and as a result things play out exactly as you would expect them to.  More glaring is the manipulative sentimentality on display courtesy of Min’s guide dog Wisdom who provides a connection to the world for her.  Besides being cute and protective he will serve one unavoidable purpose which for me amounts to no more than a cheap trick.

Blind features a number of remarkable similarities to the much superior The Chaser (2008):  the principal protagonists both used to be in law enforcement; nighttime chase sequences through decrepit but stylistically lit alleys abound; the villain in both is an amoral serial killer of young women; and the leads don’t realize that they are chasing a serial killer until about the halfway mark.  The tone is admittedly quite different but there is a surprising amount of common ground all the same and it hardly seems coincidental.  Of course it is only natural to ‘borrow’ from something that is proven to work (The Chaser sold over 5 million tickets domestically).

While I certainly enjoyed Blind, the fact that it won both best actress for Kim Ha-neul and best script for Choi Min-suk at the recent ‘Daejong Film Awards’ is ludicrous.  Kim’s performance, while adequate, certainly did not feature the kind of measured, nuanced acting that typically receives such accolades.  In fact, her performance as a blind woman was about as subtle as a brick through a window.  Similarly, Choi’s script managed to holds its elements in place but it lacks any real intrigue or originality, besides the gimmickry, which I admit that I enjoyed. Once again his slightness of touch reminded of a guerilla in a china shop.  I don’t mind campy films, though I find it odd to see them recompensed at industry awards.  What I do need is for the filmmakers to tell me that I am watching one, not to have me suss it out at the tail end of the second act.  

Besides a strong supporting turn from Jo Hee-bong, a fantastic subway chase sequence that could double as a 10-minute ad for the iPhone, and a few clever investigatory tricks, Blind often fails to impress.  However its gusto is admirable and if you catch it in the right frame of mind you may end up really enjoying yourself.


Sentiment is cheap

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Udine Far East Film Festival Day VI Report

Ongoing reports on the 14th Udine International Film Festival which Modern Korean Cinema will be covering onsite.

One Mile Above
(China, 2011)

A road movie chronicling a young man’s cycling trek in Tibet in the memory of his recently deceased brother, One Mile Above succeeds both in being a heartfelt voyage of discovery and a tribute to perseverance.  Du Jiayi’s  film is a beautiful work that takes tremendous advantage of the Himalayan landscape it takes place in.

Shuhao, the young protagonist, is someone who doesn’t have any direction of his own so when his brother dies he takes it upon himself to complete the trip that he had been working towards.  It is in honour of his sibling but it could also be read as an usurpation of a fixed goal as he lacks any of his own.  Throughout his journey he meets different characters who progressively become further removed from the people he knows form Taiwan.  These encounters, as well as the often difficult circumstances he finds himself confronted with, being to shape him as a character.

His growing endurance and tenacity are borne out of his developing sense of purpose and this, combined with the exceptional photography, lead to a moment of blissful catharsis that honestly gave me chills.  For that feeling and the majestic vistas alone, One Mile Above is worth the price of admission.  Catch it on a big screen if you can!

The Woodsman and the Rain
(Japan, 2011)

I have seen many films about filmmaking this year and a number of them have been standouts, including Cut (Japan, 2011) and This Is Not a Film (Iran, 2011).  Now I have another film to add to that list: The Woodsman and the Rain, from director Okita Shuichi, which is a testament to the thrill of creation.  As some people noted following last night’s screening, it is very ‘Japanese’.  This is mainly in reference to its dry sense of humour, which is full of mordant wit but it is also charming and welcoming, leading to an irresistible mix.

A taciturn woodsman in rural Japan has been a widow for nearly two years and lives with his recalcitrant son.  His fixed routine is shaken with the arrival of a film crew to his town.  The production underway is a zombie film, directed by a hoodie-wearing and diffident 25-year-old who seems to be in over his head.  The film chronicles how these very different characters begin to bond and slowly reawaken dormant pleasures, passions and creativity within them.

The pacing of the film is deliberate and by some accounts a little slow but I felt it suited the temperament well and accented the comedy.  Whereas Cut was a dark love letter to the medium which is framed in the context of the cinema’s greatest works of art, The Woodsman and the Rain is less concerned with artistic mastery than the sheer pleasure of filmmaking and swell of passion that enables it.  Shuichi’s characters do not visit the graves of Kurosawa, Mizoguchi and Ozu, instead, they are making a zombie B-movie and they seem all the better for it.

My Secret Partner
(South Korea, 2011)

I had a chance to see this before the festival and I must say that I was surprised to see it programmed.  One of the main qualifying factors for a film’s presentation at the FEFF is it popularity in its domestic market as the festival is a showcase for ‘Popular Asian Cinema’.  My Secret Partner (aka Perfect Partner) does not warrant that distinction.  In fact it was a flop, attracting less than 100,000 viewers at the time of its release.  So one would be forgiven for thinking that, since it was not a commercial hit, it must have been a critical one.  Once again this is not the case as the feature was mostly derided when it hit screens and then promptly forgotten.

I’m sure you can see what I’m hinting at: yes, it’s a bad film.  I had low expectations but was hoping for a surprise and though it gets off to a decent start, it begins to fade rather quickly.  The main problem is that it is a thin premise, furthermore it isn’t mined very well.  Compounding this is the film’s 125 minute running time, which, in the back stretch, feels like an eternity.

My Secret Partner aspires to be a relevant erotic romance but it’s lacks any real weight and its punchline, is never a mystery and it elicits little more than a shoulder shrug when it finally arrives.  And what does it say?  Not a blessed thing, which, in itself, is telling of the film.  Park Heon-soo’s film seems like it might have a purpose early on but any such hope evaporates by the halfway point.  By that time, it just becomes a chore.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.